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near Tianchi, Xinjiang (China)
Tianchi lake round hike - Heavenly Lake of Tianshan
Lake within national park.
The park opens 9:00am and ticket costs 115 + 90 for a shuttle bus to take you 25km between the park entrance gates and the lake. You are not allowed to drive into park unless staying in the ski resort, but even than you can only drive to the second gate which is still located 10km away from the lake. For individual tourists shuttle buses are the only option so realistically first individual tourists can arrive at the lake around 9:30.
This doesn't apply to organised groups that somehow are allowed to drive their busses up into the top station much earlier for the sunrise.
According to lonely planet it is also possible to stay in one of the traditional tents, which seems might be a best choice as those are located right in the area of the lake itself and would allow you to start the hike before crowds shows up.
The lake is indeed pretty spectacular. Set at 2000 m above sea level among mountains with clouds rolling into the valley. Weather conditions on my hike chanced dramatically several times. Visibility changed from few km to few m within minutes back and forth few times. Unfortunately i wasn't able to see the pick of god as to much clouds. I arrived 15 minutes before park closing on the day before which was very unfortunate as the weather was wonderful the evening before.
For my hike i arrived at the second gate around 8:45 and waited about 30 minutes before the ticket sales were open and first full shuttle arrive from the main gate.
Upon arrival at the top station of the shuttle bus you are faced with 10 small vendors shops selling food, toys and rain protection gear. A rather large toilets facility and police / park authorities station. It is about 10minutes walk from here to the lake itself. This part you can also take by small shuttle car that would take you to the north viewing platform. The platform itself is very busy and noisy throughout the day.
There are other shuttle buses that could take you another 5km up the east slopes to the cable car station. It was actually my original plan to hike to that station but as the visibility was very low i decided to hike around the lake instead.
As most of the visitors are groups on tight schedule they only stay in the park for few moments. It only take another 5 minutes walk along the west shore to be alone. Once i left the main car viewing platform i only saw two people for the next 30 minutes who actually worked in the park.
The 3 hours section between Fairly Pool and the Temple on the other side I was completely alone which was an amazing experience considering how popular this lake is.
The trail around the lake was closed since winter due to snow avalanches that damaged part of the trail. I started walking along the west shore where mountains are less steep and the path rather flat and in good shape.
The return path along the east shore was along the stepper mountains and there was some visible damage to the trail. In several areas protection chain balustrade was ripped off from ground and washed away down the slope. In some cases also part of the stone trail steps were washed down. The very last 30 minutes section of the train between the temple and the main gate is partially through a cantilevered timber deck fixed to a side of high cliff. As the temple is one of money generating attractions - this section was actually repaired and open for tourists. Otherwise I might have to walk 3h back as there is no other way.
The east shore is more challenging and takes more time. It took me about 1:45 minutes to walk to this point which i though is half way. It took me another 2:30 minutes to walk back along the east shore.
I believe I saw a person standing in front of this little hut. Must be somebody working in the park. Due to poor visibility i wasn't what time of hut is this but might be a timber.
as i walked from the other direction no one else actually enters - i was not charged for the visit.
If you decide to walk along the east side of the lake south - it seems you might have to cross the temple and buy the ticket.
Old staircase to the temple or perhaps entrance to the trail leading south. While on the trail i haven't however seen any crossing that this path would merge, unless just before the temple itself.
Whatever this was obviously somebody doesn't want you to walk there anymore
Most likely the old trail to the temple before the broad staircase was built.
So it was not raining at all during my hike, but a lot of water had condeznsated on tress and pavement. I have touched with my arm a brunch of pine tree ones just to realise my whole arm got pretty wet.
Well conditioned and safe, which was a great relief.